Tim Tebow’s faith in football

It’s about standings. Sort of…

He has an uneasy celebrity status in the NFL. Many athletes are Christians and visibly show or express their gratitude to God before, during and after games. But there’s something differently, prickly to the media, about Tim Tebow.

If there’s any question about the level of religious divisiveness in America, just look to the NFL, and the cult of personality, punditry, and outright passion surrounding Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. The former Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida, a devout Evangelical Christian who isn’t shy about spreading the gospel, has completed just 45 NFL passes through the first one and a quarter seasons of his career.

However…

Tebow seems to have crossed a line that most athletes have respected. They’ll celebrate their own faith, but won’t challenge yours. “This is a sticking point,” says Arthur Remillard, a religious studies professor at St. Francis College in Loretto, Pa., who teaches a course on sports and religion, and starts it off with a Tebow discussion. “It’s one thing for an athlete to say ‘Thank you, Jesus,” on a Sunday afternoon. It’s another for him to make what amounts to a declaration that ‘I am morally superior to you.’ There’s a segment of the fan base that’s not too keen on hearing that.”

Is that what they’re hearing? Or more accurately (and there’s a difference), is that what he’s saying?

George Weigel says the reaction to Tebow is irrational.

Tebow is the son of an evangelical pastor and spends some of his vacation time working with his father’s mission in the Philippines. He famously wore eye-black with Bible verses inked on it in white during his Florida career, and he is not reluctant to share his Christian faith in other public ways. He visits sick kids in hospitals; he has said that he is a virgin who believes in saving himself for marriage; he and his mother taped a pro-life commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. There is not the slightest evidence that Tebow has ever forced himself and his convictions on his teammates or on an unsuspecting public.

And if Catholics would find his theology a little questionable at points, there is nothing of which I’m aware that would suggest that Tim Tebow wouldn’t be interested in sitting down and having a serious conversation with knowledgeable Catholics about how God saves those who will be saved. A guy who can command respect in the moral and cultural free-fire zone of an NFL locker room (not to mention the Southeastern Conference, which hardly resembles a network of Carthusian monasteries) is not likely to be shaken by a serious conversation about his understanding of how the Lord Jesus and his Father might effect the salvation of those who do not explicitly avow faith in the Lord Jesus and his Father.

No, Tim Tebow is a target of irrational hatred, not because he’s an iffy quarterback at the NFL level, or a creep personally, or an obnoxious, in-your-face, self-righteous proselytizer. He draws hatred because he is an unabashed Christian, whose calmness and decency in the face of his Christophobic detractors drives them crazy. Tim Tebow, in other words, is a prime example of why Christophobia—a neologism first coined by a world-class comparative constitutional law scholar, J.H.H. Weiler, himself an Orthodox Jew—is a serious cultural problem in these United States.

And the fact that it’s George Weigel writing this signals that the problem, reaching this height in major league sports in the US, is serious.

Tolerance, that supreme virtue of the culture of radical relativism, does not extend to evangelical Christians, it seems. And if it does not extend to evangelicals who unapologetically proclaim their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior and who live their commitment to the dignity of human life from conception and natural death, it will not extend to Catholics who make that same profession of faith and that same moral commitment. Whatever we think of Tim Tebow’s theology of salvation, Tim Tebow and serious Catholics are both fated to be targets of the Christophobes.

Their war on Christianity is getting more radical, as Weigel notes in his concluding remark, which questions how democracy will survive this culture war with religion. It’s a recurring theme, gaining urgency. In the past two weeks, I’ve personally heard three bishops, two cardinals, one congressman, two constitutional law experts and several scholars express heightened concerns over the assault on Christians that’s reached unprecedented levels.

Without risk of exaggerating the football analogy, it’s clear they’re prepared for both defense and offense.